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What Russia's war has meant for some of Ukraine's youngest casualties

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a report now on some of the youngest victims of war. They are Ukrainian children living in the path of Russia's invasion. Leila Fadel has some of their stories from Kyiv. Now, if you're not in a place to hear kids in distress right now, this story will last about 7 minutes. Don't worry, we'll still be here when you get back. But if you can listen, it matters. And here's their story.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: There's a sound missing in Kyiv, the sound of children. Every playground we pass in the capital is empty. Since the start of Russia's war on Ukraine, more than half of this country's children have been displaced. But through the gates of Ukraine's largest children's hospital, one car after another rolls in, tagged with the word children - a plea to Russian forces not to strike, not to shoot. In the lobby of the hospital, medical staff unpack diapers, medicine, food, toys. A bulletin board is covered with notes of support from around the world.

I see something from Italy. I see things in English - love, peace, freedom, stay strong. And then there are stuffed animals pinned onto the board that were sent for little children.

It's this hospital where Ukraine's sickest children are treated, and now its most gravely injured if they can get here from more dangerous parts of the country. But even here in this place of healing, medical director Serhiy Chernyshuk tells us, safety, it's not guaranteed.

SERHIY CHERNYSHUK: I hope that the information that you show will help us to receive additional help from whole world. I'm not about medical help. We are - we can do everything by ourselves. But we need help to the sky because the most dangerous place in Ukraine in sky - also, for our clinic, too, because some of rockets hit very close to us.

FADEL: In other parts of the country, Russian strikes have hit hospitals. Through the lobby and past the double doors, we meet Anastasia Rusyn (ph) in the emergency room.

ANASTASIA RUSYN: I am a radiologist. So I work on X-rays, CT and MRI.

FADEL: And lately, she's been learning to tie tourniquets, too. She's been living in the hospital since the start of the war because it's safer than her home. But also, doctors are living here so they're ready for the wounded to arrive. Before the Russian invasion, most injuries she saw were the kinds kids normally get from being kids.

RUSYN: Some bicycles, you know, riding, as children has some...

FADEL: Accidents?

RUSYN: Yes, accidents - sports, football and so on. And now we have blast trauma. It's children with shrapnel. We have children with heart injuries.

FADEL: She pulls up a picture.

RUSYN: So this boy...

FADEL: Oh, my gosh.

RUSYN: Yes.

FADEL: His entire back is open.

RUSYN: Yes. Yes. It was due - they were on a children's yard. He was playing. And then, not far away from this yard, some parts of rocket were hit him to his back. It was very hard for us even to see this small, small boy with such injury, you know? It's - sometimes it's - even for doctors, it's hard to see this things, and because we are humans.

FADEL: Upstairs, there's the 4-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl was shrapnel wounds to her legs and a 13-year-old, who's had multiple surgeries over the past few weeks.

What's your name?

VOVA KARIVANSKY: Vova.

FADEL: Vova?

Vova might be a little hard to understand because his jaw is wired shut. But he still manages a half-smile when we meet him. Vova is short for Voloydymyr, Voloydymyr Karivansky. I ask him about the scar running down the side of his face.

What happened here?

V KARIVANSKY: (Non-English language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: The car was fired at.

FADEL: But it's not just his face. A bullet grazed his hand, two pierced his back, another his foot.

OK. I see you're pulling up on your - also, you got a bullet here?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: And he's showing us a wound to his legs. He's got a bandage on his thigh and more wounds on his knee.

He shows me each injury with the practiced rhythm of a patient who's been poked and prodded. He doesn't cry. He says, it doesn't hurt anymore. Vova's mother, Natalia, sits on the bed next to him and tells us Russian forces opened fire on their car as they fled their neighborhood outside Kyiv.

NATALIA KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) So yes, we were together, the whole family in one car. And the car was fired at. So he died there on the spot. And just when we started screaming, the children are in here, it was too late for my husband and for Maxim (ph).

FADEL: Maxim was her nephew. He was 6 years old. She pulls up pictures of her late husband. Alexander (ph) was 43.

Oh, a beautiful family. Is this from Christmas?

N KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) This picture been taken one year ago.

FADEL: There's a picture of them on their anniversary. He gave her a huge bouquet of flowers - another one of them on a family hike. Vova jumps in to change the subject.

V KARIVANSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: He asks to show the dog.

FADEL: What's your dog's name?

V KARIVANSKY: Jura (ph).

N KARIVANSKY: Jura.

FADEL: Jura?

N KARIVANSKY: Juju, (non-English language spoken).

(LAUGHTER)

FADEL: You love your dog?

N KARIVANSKY: Love it.

FADEL: He doesn't talk about his dad.

You are brave and strong. How are you just so brave about all this?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) I just don't care about this war.

FADEL: Vova's mom jumps in here.

N KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) He's just not completely realize what is happening.

FADEL: Yeah. What do you think is happening?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) Putin has sent his troops to kill the Ukrainians.

FADEL: Vova says he's tired of being in this hospital.

What do you wish you were doing right now if there wasn't a war?

V KARIVANSKY: (Through interpreter) If there wasn't a war, I would just play games on my phone and play with my dog.

FADEL: We leave his room. And an hour later, we see him in the lobby. A staff member is pushing him in a wheelchair. After nearly a month in a hospital bed, he's out in the world.

So we're watching Vova in a red wheelchair. He's being picked up and put onto a bus. He has a little stuffed animal. And he's going to Poland, away from the shelling, away from ambushes, away from the stories we've heard here in Kyiv, in the capital of Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLAFUR ARNALDS' "TREE")

INSKEEP: Our colleague, Leila Fadel.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLAFUR ARNALDS' "TREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.